Author Interview: Bridget E. Baker, Marked
Even though she landed an agent, author Bridget E. Baker didn't jump into publishing with both feet until she went indie. She urges aspiring authors to write whenever they can, even if for only minutes a day, no matter what stage of life they are in. As Bridget said, "A million things out there will keep you from writing."
Read her full author interview below!
1. List the titles of your published books (include publisher and year published) and your author website/Facebook page links.
Marked (Purple Puppy Publishing, 2018)
Suppressed (also Purple Puppy Publishing 2018)
Redeemed (also Purple Puppy Publishing 2018)
Finding Santa (also PPP 2018)
2. When did you start writing your first book? Where did the idea come from?
I began writing my first book ten years ago. I had the idea from a dream, and plotted it all out while driving across the country on a move. Unfortunately, the idea for that book was awful. I knew nothing about writing a novel and it was a sequence of events and not a novel. Any conflict was purely coincidental! I wrote my first book that got PUBLISHED five years ago, in the few weeks after my fourth daughter was born. I’d written two real stinkers and decided to read some books on craft. The idea popped into my head really, again, inspired by a dream!
3. What was the hardest part about writing your first book? What hurdles did you have to overcome?
My biggest issue was that I wanted lovely things to happen to my characters. I didn’t want horrible things to happen first. I needed to learn that CONFLICT fuels a book. I also needed to learn a lot about pacing. I think some of the things I’ve learned about pacing, but didn’t know when I plotted MARKED still sort of plague the story. I’ve done my best to fix them! I’ll always love MARKED though, because it did land me my agent. She and I subbed three books over four and a half years. In total, I wrote eight more books after MARKED, and before I published it.
4. Once your manuscript was finished, what did you do?
After I finished my rough draft of Marked, I started to query agents.
5. What did you expect from the editing process? How was the experience?
I thought my first draft was amazing. I learned that no matter how many drafts you write, you CAN ALWAYS improve your novel. That was both freeing and depressing!
6. Describe what re-writing involves and how it makes you feel. How is it different than the initial writing?
I love the initial drafting. It’s like stuffing my face with delicious cookies. I wish I could write and draft and write and never stop. I hate editing. It’s like getting my teeth cleaned. They’re undeniably shinier and sparklier afterward but I put it off as long as I can, and I make it way worse than it needs to be.
7. Did you have non-editors read your book for feedback (Alpha Readers)? What did you get out of that?
I had lots of Alpha readers. Most of them helped me feel good about my book, but ultimately didn’t offer much helpful feedback. A notable few really helped. But I’ve discovered that alpha readers who are more of a cheerleader are quite important, too. When I’m drafting, it’s tremendously helpful to have someone who is begging me for more chapters. It makes me think they’re good, and encourages me to get them done! So each reader type I’ve had serves an important purpose. Critical feedback, no matter how good, is absolutely AWFUL for me during my rough draft phase. It’ll stop me like a brick wall.
8. Who designed your cover? How much input did you have? How important is the cover design?
I designed it… and set up a cover shoot… and then my cover artist completely changed the look. He said what I picked was dystopian and I am post apocalyptic and I was all wrong. The photos I had taken worked out beautifully, but the look was completely opposite of what I had in mind. Even so, I love it. The three book series has cover that progress, exactly as I wanted. Christian Bentulan did them, and I loved working with him. I’ve gotten oodles of compliments.
Figuring out what to do with my covers is HANDS down the hardest part of publishing indie. Right behind writing the blurb.
9. How did you go forward with publishing? Why? How was that experience?
I slugged away at traditional, writing, editing, polishing, sending to my agent, revising and polishing again, and then waiting for her to submit it to editors. Getting to acquisitions and getting my hopes up… and then waiting and waiting and getting my hopes squashed. Lather, rinse, repeat for FIVE YEARS. That doesn’t include the two books I wrote and queried for years before landing an agent. I might have just kept at it, like a wind-up toy angled into the corner, except that my agent left her agency.
Full stop. I freaked out. I went through all the cycles—I’m a loser, I’ll never make it, I should quit. Chin up, query again, get a 50% request rate, I’m awesome, my new career will be way better, here it comes.
Then at Storymakers (a writer’s conference in May), I met some indie authors. Instead of sitting on their hands and waiting and waiting and waiting, they were designing their own covers, picking their own stories, doing their own promotion and picking their own editors. Sure, their resources were limited and their time was split, but THEY decided what and when and how much.
It took me a few months to process, but I decided to do it, starting with my very first (and possibly most flawed) baby. Marked, the book that landed me my agent. And for the first time, I was able to write books TWO AND THREE in a series! When you’re seeking traditional publication, you never write book two and three until one has sold and been approved. I had, for a decade, been writing the intro for all these worlds, and characters, and plotting an end I could never reach! It felt unbelievably exciting, inexplicably delightful to write the story to fruition.
10. How have you marketed your first book?
Terribly, I’m sure. I lined up some newsletter swaps. I’ve signed up for two or three promotions. I’m running some AMS ads and taking a class on how to improve with those. I’m also doing some sample giveaways with a group called Book Funnel to try and grow my own newsletter list. It’s slow going, but I’m excited and motivated to keep on keeping on.
11. How was the initial feedback from readers?
I was nervous. Like super nervous. I decided to send to friends and family… and also to a dozen or so book bloggers. I knew this was my worst book. I knew it had some pacing limitations based on the plot I dreamed up years ago. And yet, I loved the story and wanted it to be born. I knew if I started with the ones I liked better, I‘d never publish Marked. So I went ahead and did it… and you know what? All the book bloggers have loved it so far! They couldn’t believe it was indie, and said they couldn’t put it down. Thankfully, the worse review I’ve gotten was four stars. What a relief. Of course, it’s early days. I’m sure those one stars are out there, waiting to pounce.
12. How have sales been on your first book? Did they go as expected? What helps you the most to sell books?
Sales have gone pretty well. I’ve now recovered my outlay on all four books. I’m making money at this point, slowly. From what I hear, it takes time to build a solid readership with indie publishing, so I’m trying not to be disappointed that I haven’t made tons of money yet. (Do writers ever really make TONS? JK Rowling aside?) I’m doing some things that flow against conventional wisdom, like NOT pricing my new books at 99c. I’d really like to grow a readership who will pay full price instead of only 99c. It may be slower going, but I’m willing to wait it out.
13. Talk about print vs ebook. Do you get more sales with one than the other?
I’ve heard for indies, it’s all about the ebook. So far with my YA series, I’ve had about half and half! I know that sounds wacky, but I’ve sold nearly as many print books as ebooks. I hope it continues that way! On my romance title, I’ve sold way way way more ebooks, and I’m generating most of my income from page reads. I think that’s all about the market and how the readers in that market read.
14. Did you set the prices of your print and ebooks? How do you decide how to price them?
I did set both and it was hard. Ultimately, I priced mine at the very upper end of indie books for a few reasons. First, I’d rather grow my readership more slowly with people who are willing to pay for books. I know that sounds greedy, but really, it’s economics. If you want a quality product, I need to have enough money to pay for editing, good covers, and promotions. I make dramatically more money from Amazon (a higher percentage) if I sell my books for more than $3 per copy. 70% royalty versus 35%! It’s insane. I’ve spent TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS on professional editing on these three books alone, and I have THREE more rounds of edits to pay for! I think each edit made my book much better and is worth the expense, but I ultimately decided to try and find readers who believe that you get what you pay for.
15. What made you decide to write more books? How were those experiences (writing/editing) compared with your first book? Did you do anything differently?
I didn’t decide to write more books. I’m a lawyer who makes a LOT doing legal work. Writing is idiotic. I do it because I love it so much that I can’t NOT do it. But yes it gets way way way easier as you go. In fact, I can write a new book that’s in pretty decent shape in about two weeks now. It took me months with my first book.
16. Anything different in the publishing process for your other books?
I haven’t decided yet whether to self publish everything else I’ve written, or look into traditional again. I suppose some of that may depend on how these books do!
17. When did you consider yourself a "writer"?
When I landed an agent. Which is kind of dumb, but I needed that validation.
18. When do you write? What motivates you to write?
Every single spare second I get. When my two year old naps. After the kids are in bed. I’m motivated by my desire to see my story told in the best way possible. I love words. I love stories. I love crafting something that people want to consume. It’s like baking. I love cookies, and I love making them, and I love watching people eat them and enjoy it. I guess I’m a creator and I’m motivated by people wanting what I create.
19. What do aspiring authors ask you?
Nothing yet, because I’m not anyone special. I hope one day they’ll ask me anything they want to know.
20. What advice can you offer for aspiring authors about writing, editing, publishing, and marketing?
With regard to writing: do it now. Because you’ll always have a reason not to write. When I had a job, that kept me from writing. When I had a baby, same. When I had two, and three and four, and a husband, and Netflix, all of those things kept me from writing. I still have church commitments, and quilting, and traveling and reading. A million things out there will keep you from writing. I wrote my first (good) book with four kids, a part time job, and a lot of church commitments. I did it because I decided I had to do it and I made it a priority. Your writing won’t improve until you commit to make time for it. Minutes a day, every weekend, only you can find the magic combination that works, but you need to find that time, make that time, and eventually you’ll find a fit that works for you.
With regard to publishing you need to figure out what matters, and what genre and pace you’re willing to take. If you write really fast, and you like romance, indie might be the best option for you. If you want to write only YA, or literary, definitely plan to traditionally publish. Likewise, if you’re a slow writer, you’ll want to focus on traditional publishing.
With regard to marketing, I know zero about traditional marketing, except that the big publishers really only push the books at the very top. They’ll get them all in bookstores, but you may not get as much as you hoped. Especially if you’re low on the list. With regard to indie, find a tribe. Find a group of people (facebook is a great place to start) that do the same books as you. Network, build a newsletter, do promos with other authors, and plan to learn about facebook and AMS ads. And mostly for indie, write, release, and then do that over and over. As you put out more and more, you’ll pick up new readers and grow your readers, and they’ll consume your backlist if your new title is good enough.